Jugnauth government spent billions on snooping

The recent release of Predator Files by Amnesty International revealing the use of advanced technologies for  surveillance by authoritarian states as to contain dissent by restricting the actions of journalists, social activists and political opponents, reignites concerns on violation of fundamental rights. How far is Mauritius from the rogue states practising intensive and intrusive tracking of their citizens?

The ongoing legal tussle between Financial Intelligence Unit and Danesh Ellayah, former Chief Operating Officer of Huawei, has exposed bewildering evidence of a nexus not only looting public funds but also depriving the very same public of their fundamental rights.  With Danesh Ellayah compelled to admit through means of an affidavit, that the hundreds of millions stashed his company’s bank account are the proceeds of a transaction between DNS Consult and the government of Mauritius, the logical question that follows relates to the nature of the transaction itself. Capital brings to you exclusive details of technology supplied by a company considered as one  of the world’s greatest threat to democracy and  used by the Jugnauth government to spy on countrymen.

While Pegasus, spyware developed by the Israeli cyber-arms company NSO Group or ‘Infections’  conceived by Nexa Technologies  occupy the centre stage due to international media outcry , citizens of Mauritius should focus on another US-Israeli company,  Verint Systems. The company  is an undisputed key player in the global surveillance industry, providing its clients with advanced software designed to monitor various forms of communication. Over the last years, reports have revealed  Verint’s substantial presence in Latin American and African countries. Verint Systems  is being accused by Human Rights Organisations  of having provided information which has facilitated assassination of political opponents, journalists and social activists with one of the countries being Sudan.

As in the case of Huawei’s Safe City Project,  Verint solutions package was initially offered to the government of Madagascar back in 2014. Uncertainties and internal issues amongst the close aides of the President of Madagascar led to middlemen shifting their focus onto the freshly elected government in Mauritius. With the Jugnauth government intending to wipe off all possible dissent, establishing undisputed rule coupling with the insatiable crave of the middlemen , what followed can be reasonably described as a natural process in a state gone rogue.

The Verint package consists of a blend of 3 controversial components namely: Skylock, a full blown geo localisation system which boasts of an  extensive range of features, including real-time location tracking, interception of mobile communications, and passive GSM monitoring. It offers operational agencies the ability to retrieve subscribers’ locations globally, even in the case of inbound roamers and foreign countries.

ENGAGE PI2 which  passively records all traffic transmitted between Base Transmitting Stations (BTSs) and mobile stations, allows for wide-band interception covering GSM 900 and 1800 Bands. It can handle up to 120 simultaneous calls and SMSs and offers full recording of all intercepted traffic for future use. The system also offers a  feature for Speaker Identification which adds another layer to surveillance.

ENGAGE GI2  a portable solution designed for field operations, which  enables the detection, control, interception, and location of GSM and UMTS phones. Equipped with powerful amplifiers and antennas, it supports simultaneous multiple targeting.

While David Sarfati, Director of  Cyber Intelligence Solutions underlines in  Verint’s offer that all the proposed components do not require any connectivity to local operators and are undetectable by them, Capital confirms that devices were indeed connected to Mauritius Telecom network at 4 sites : Orleans Exchange, Floreal Exchange, Rose Belle Exchange and Riviere du Rempart Exchange. These operations were willingly facilitated by senior cadres of Mauritius Telecom expressly delegated by then CEO  of the company. The two foreign facilitators were  Sam Rabin and Uri Weil , both former  Israeli operatives currently  working for Verint.

Far from merely exploiting the SS7 (Signaling System Number 7) protocols to perform location tracking and communications interception, the Verint package is a comprehensive arsenal, any rogue state would cherish. One of the salient features of Verint’s package is its cutting-edge Speech Analytics engines which enable tracking down of targets merely by using 60 seconds of  voice print database. The ability to track virtually any network subscriber worldwide ( with the exception of US & Israeli subscribers), even without GPS-enabled devices, raises concerns about mass surveillance.

The most pressing concern is the blatant invasion of privacy facilitated by Verint’s technologies. These systems have the capacity to intercept telephone calls, text messages, emails, chats, and even track internet usage history. Such comprehensive monitoring encroaches on the very essence of personal privacy and infringes upon an individual’s right to maintain a private sphere of communication. This level of access can be exploited for purposes beyond the originally intended ones. Fundamental rights, such as the right to privacy, are at risk. Citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their communications and movements. Technology acquired by the Jugnauth Government does  infringe upon fundamental  rights, as it allows for detailed tracking without consent. The risk of misuse is real and so is the targeting of dissent. This poses a direct threat to free speech and democracy. As rightly underlined in a study by the Think Tank of the European Parliament “ The proliferation of new and emerging technologies over the past two decades has significantly expanded states’ toolkit for repression and social control, deepening human rights problems. While these technologies still have the potential to positively enhance democratic values and human rights, they are now also actively deployed and shaped by many repressive regimes to their own strategic advantage”.

Other concerns relate to absence of judicial process paving way for blackmailing, coercion, and discrimination. Forking out billions to spy on debt ridden tax payers while the country lacks investment in basic amenities, is a definite crime which the government will have to be held accountable. Moreover if it does make any sense to purchase such technology to combat crime, then how could the Prime Minister possibly explain the need to rout such an order through Danesh Ellayah, a party devoid of knowledge about the technology and yet charges a mark up of  100% of the contract value? A modus consistently applied in major projects such as MARS, Safe City etc.  However the interesting twist to the story is that amongst targets tracked there are trade unionists, journalists, political opponents and … members of cabinet. Some of these disturbing recordings might become handy for those seeking a safe passage to the shores of Dubai.

Rajen Valayden

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